Traffic nightmares at IAH have people ditching their rides and walking to terminals

Air travelers are usually prepared to do some walking as they make their way through airport terminals, checking baggage, clearing security and finding their gates. But few expect to start walking before they get to the terminal.

Well, get ready. Traffic at George Bush Intercontinental Airport is getting so snarled and so delayed during peak travel times that passengers have been forced to hop from cars and walk to terminals to make their flights.

The combination of the post-pandemic resurgence in air travel and a massive $1.3 billion construction project — expected to last through 2024 — is creating traffic nightmares for drivers picking up and dropping off passengers. On Sunday evening, one driver, on the way to get his parents, tweeted that traffic was at a standstill for an hour as he watched and photographed people piling out of vehicles and walking to terminals.

It wasn’t the first time, either. City Council member Sallie Alcorn recalled people abandoning their rides and weaving through the stalled traffic after arriving at Terminal C on a recent evening.

“Something’s got to give,” Alcorn said. “The good news, people are really traveling again, and business is really up, but we’re going to have to figure out that situation.”

The construction is the outgrowth of the largest capital improvement project in the airport’s 53-year history. Known as the IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, it has been planned since 2014 and under construction since 2019

The expansion is driven by the region’s growth as an international destination for business and leisure travelers. The centerpiece is the construction of a new Mickey Leland International Terminal as a hub between the existing D and E terminals.

The construction activity also is engulfing Terminal C, home to the airport’s biggest carrier, United Airlines, and whittling traffic in some spots to just one lane. Both the Houston Airport System and airlines have warned travelers to expect delays and leave extra time to get the terminals.

In a June 1 alert, airport officials advised passengers to budget at least an hour of extra time if they’re traveling during peak times — between 5 and 8 pm Thursday through Sunday. Airport officials say they are keeping a close eye on the situation and looking for ways to reduce the congestion — but conceded that some impact is to be expected given the scope of the project.

Dan Pickering, the founder and chief information officer of Pickering Energy Partners, travels regularly from Bush Intercontinental and often finds traffic “just a complete nightmare.” He said he understands the need for the airport improvement projects and recognizes they might cause inconveniences.

But, he added, the airport system should do more to ease the traffic tie-ups.

“A bunch of pylons with separating lanes of traffic is not customer service,” he said. “People out directing traffic, that would be customer service. Two or three folks during peak hours creating some order from chaos would make a huge difference.”

Contributing to the chaos is the rebound in air travel. On Sunday, nearly 2.4 million people passed through security checkpoints across the country, up from 441,255 on June 5, 2020 — and comparable to the 2.7 million screened on the same day in 2019.

In April, roughly 3.3 million passengers traveled through Bush Intercontinental, up from 2.5 million in April 2021 and just 180,786 in April 2020, according to the Houston Airport System.

The Greater Houston Partnership, a business-financed economic development group, said it expects air travel and passengers through Houston airports to rise through the rest of year.

So, be prepared for delays at Bush Intercontinental. In addition to advising departing passengers to allow extra time for traffic delays, airport officials recommend that arriving passengers use the airport’s subway and Skyway systems to move to terminals A or B to meet their ride.

Departing passengers might wish to exercise that option too, since the construction and ensuing traffic snarls are centered on terminals C, D and E.

“It’s so easy to go to A,” Alcorn said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.